The late American psychologist Wayne Dyer once said, “If you are what you do, then when you don’t – you aren’t.” This little aphorism accurately describes the plight of many retirees. Their identity is so wedded to their work that, once they quit their jobs, that sense of identity disappears. That feeling of losing one’s bearings has been heightened by all the disruption triggered by the coronavirus. With that in mind, it might be time for some personal reflection. Maybe the key to enjoying the rest of your life centers on discovering – or rediscovering – a sense of purpose in your life.
Life Purpose Affects How Long You’re Likely to Live
As it turns out, the presence or absence of a life purpose can have a significant impact on how long you’re likely to live. That’s the clear conclusion from this article from the National Public Radio website that we first brought to your attention one year ago. According to NPR, a study that appeared last year on the website called JAMA Network showed that “having a purpose in life may decrease your risk of dying early.”
Researchers analyzed data from nearly 7,000 American adults between the ages of 51 and 61 who filled out psychological questionnaires on the relationship between mortality and life purpose. Researchers were “shocked” at the results, said one of the study authors. According to NPR, “People who didn’t have a strong life purpose… were more likely to die than those who did, and specifically more likely to die of cardiovascular diseases.” Moreover, the correlation was statistically significant: research showed that “people without a strong life purpose were more than twice as likely to die between the study years of 2006 and 2010, compared with those who had one.”
The Need for Life Purpose Applies to Just About Everybody – and Needn’t Be Complex
The connection between purpose and longevity also appeared to transcend all the usual socioeconomic categories. “This association between a low level of purpose in life and death remained true despite how rich or poor participants were, and regardless of gender, race, or education level. The researchers also found the association to be so powerful that having a life purpose appeared to be more important for decreasing risk of death than drinking, smoking or exercising regularly.”
According to researchers quoted by NPR, a life purpose doesn’t have to be complicated or lofty. The survey defined life purpose as a self-organizing life aim that stimulates goals – in other words, it’s something you choose that helps you get up in the morning and gives your life a set of objectives. “The survey didn’t ask participants to define how they find meaning in life,” said the article. What matters, according to the researchers, is not exactly what a person’s life purpose is, but that they have one.
The Need for Life Purpose is as Real as the Need for Food and Sleep
“For some, it might be raising children. For others, it might be doing volunteer work,” said study author Dr. Celeste Pearce. “Where your life fulfillment comes from can be very individual.” Another expert in the field who has studied the link between life purpose and health told NPR that basic psychological needs are just as important as physical needs like food, water and sleep. This doctor puts the need for a purpose in life at the top of the list. “The need for meaning and purpose is No. 1,” he said. “It’s the deepest driver of well-being there is.”
This is definitely not the first time that research has demonstrated that life purpose and longevity are linked. “The new study adds to a small but growing body of literature on the relationship between life purpose and physical health,” says NPR. One paper from 2016 “used data from 10 studies to show that strong life purpose was associated with reduced risk of mortality and cardiovascular events, such as heart attacks or stroke.” The take-away seems clear. “What I’m really struck by is the strength of our findings, as well as the consistency in the literature overall,” Dr. Pearce says. “It seems quite convincing.”
Life Purpose: Do You Find It or Does It Find You?
If you’re one of those people whose mind goes blank when the question of “life purpose” comes up, there are plenty of online tools and tips to help you ask yourself the right questions and zero in on the things that make you tick. (We did a Bing search for “finding a life purpose” and came up with 97 million hits.) One example is this NextAvenue article from a few years ago in which the author, life coach Ed Merck, suggests five steps toward helping you determine your life purpose:
- Identify the activities that you find personally meaningful.
- Create a brief statement or simple phrase that ties these interests together.
- Strengthen your inner landscape through “internal” activities like meditation – something important for retirees who have lived their entire working lives conforming to external standards.
- Learn to be still, quit striving, and listen for possibilities. “I often think the key to fulfillment in one’s later years is not about finding purpose,” says Merck: “rather, we need to let it find us. Sounds easy, but it’s not.” We need to learn “a whole new way of embracing life.”
- Explore the power of creativity – something many rediscover later in life.
Two Important Retirement-Planning Announcements from AgingOptions
At AgingOptions our chief desire is to help you prepare for the kind of retirement you’ve always dreamed of having. Toward that end, we want to share two important announcements that are designed to facilitate your LifePlanning process even during this period when most of us are required to avoid gathering in groups.
First, in cooperation with our partners at LifePoint Law, we are excited to launch a ground-breaking new service called the LifePoint Law Emergency Legal Kit. Without leaving your home, you can now consult with a LifePoint Law attorney who will work with you to prepare and sign a complete set of vitally important legal documents including both Financial and Healthcare Powers of Attorney, a Living Will/Advance Directive, a Will or Trust, and much more. Click on the link or call us at AgingOptions and we’ll explain this excellent service to you.
Second, Rajiv Nagaich has scheduled several of his popular, free LifePlanning Seminars in the form of webinars that you can watch conveniently at home. Simply visit our Events Page and register for the webinar of your choice.
Reliable information has never been more important – and that’s our promise to you at AgingOptions and LifePoint Law. Age on!
(originally reported at www.npr.org)